Baby & Toddler / 29 October, 2021 / Ellie Thompson
Family mealtimes: when it comes to feeding our family, it can go either two ways – full tummies and happy faces all round, or stressed out parents and little ones who haven’t enjoyed their meal. We all strive for that first option and as parents and care givers, we have an uncontrollable desire to ensure that our children are full after every meal. Firstly I would like to say that if they don’t, you are not a bad parent, and you are doing the best you can. Even if they have just had a few small mouthfuls, we cannot physically force our little ones to eat, so know that you are doing a fantastic job!
Even though we cannot make a child eat if they really do not want to, there are a number of actions we can do to change their attitude towards certain foods and the eating environment. Modelling play can be a big part of this. The best way to do this is to sit around the table and eat together as a family, so your little one is watching and learning from you. This helps with learning the physicalities of eating, picking up foods and chewing, and using cutlery efficiently. It teaches children good eating habits of sitting at the table focusing on the task in hand – eating your food together. If they can see you doing it, they are more likely to develop these good habits too.
Another way to help give positive family mealtime examples to our children is to role-play away from eating times of the day. This is where the Baby Annabell Lunch Time Table is such a fantastic toy for young toddlers and children of all ages. As your child plays with the toy, feeding Baby Annabell in her chair sat nicely at her table, your child is learning and leading by example. You can subtly praise Baby Annabell and your little one for trying lots of foods, and your little one for making the mealtime so exciting for baby.
As your family mealtimes come around, you can remind your child of how well they showed Baby Annabell to sit at her table and try lots of different types of foods. Enabling a child to learn through play provides a visual and physical process that can be much more effective than verbal instructions, especially when tensions may be high at the dinner table.
It is also important to establish consistent mealtime routines with your little ones. To feed them in the same position in your home, preferably in an environment away from any distractions. This will result in the child knowing that it is eating time when in the dining room for example, and it won’t feel confusing or unfamiliar. If you can, within reason, try to serve meals at the same time every day so that your little one can develop a sense of routine, and understand their hunger cues. If your little one struggles to enjoy their meals, but you find that snack times are always welcomed, it might be worth readjusting your mealtime patterns, and reducing or eliminating snack times so that your little one is hungrier and more willing to eat their more balanced meals.
You can also look to offering more of a variety within your little one’s plate, keeping to a balanced meal of vegetables and fruit, with carbohydrates, protein and dairy if your diet permits it. Offering small amounts of each of these food groups will not only ensure that your little one is eating a balanced diet, but also provides variety which is much more inviting. Saying no to one element of the meal doesn’t mean that they won’t eat, there are now plenty of other parts to the dish that they could try. You never know, by eating together and modelling, they may go back to that item which was previously refused.
If possible, it can be very helpful to involve your child in choosing what they would like to eat. You can control their choices if you wish so that either option is okay with you as the parent. For example, ask your little one if they would like to eat peas or carrots with their meal, or even both? That way your little one feels like they have some independence and are in control of their own food intake. This all plays a part in raising happy, healthy little foodies.
Remember, when your little one says no to a certain food on their plate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like the food. There are many factors and reasons as to why they aren’t keen right now. It could be that the texture is not appealing to them at that time, possibly they feel under the weather or are teething if at the weaning age. They could not be hungry enough to give it a good go, or quite simply they just don’t quite feel like eating it. The absolute best thing you can do as a parent is to keep offering that refused food. Even if you feel like they won’t eat it, the key is to keep offering, alongside a food that is loved so that the plate of food doesn’t look too scary or daunting.
All of these points can be practised through doll play with Baby Annabell, offering dolls pretend food of different varieties, trying to focus mainly on healthy foods to instil a healthy attitude towards eating.
I find the best and most simple thing you can do when feeding little ones is to smile. If your child sees you enjoying the food they are more likely to eat it. If your child feels happy seeing you happy in the mealtime moment, they are more likely to eat. And if they feel happy playing with their Baby Annabell, seeing how much fun food can be when helping their doll ‘eat’ a variety of foods, then they are more likely to replicate this at the family dinner table.
The Baby Annabell lunchtime range is perfect for encouraging healthy mealtime routines with little ones.